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The ORBT Is Coming

19 Apr

BRT_website-1024x538

The Omaha Rapid Bus Transit (ORBT) team has been quiet as they wait for various approvals before communicating news of their design and schedule.

From all the early reports, we have cause to celebrate: not only did the ORBT team have the foresight to secure a federal grant, they also dealt with complex issues to deliver a significant improvement to Omaha’s transit network.

It Wasn’t Raining When Noah Built the Ark

Omaha is fortunate to have a Metro Transit team with the foresight to plan ahead. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) implementations can fall into two broad categories:
BRT Implementations

Rather than wait until Omaha’s congestion floods the streets as in other major cities, the team secured in January 2015 a $15 million federal grant to implement Omaha’s BRT – which is now known as the ORBT.

The downside of this early action is that many people don’t see the need for ORBT. With a mindset that road widening can alleviate congestion and a history of growth by suburban annexation, it is assumed that we can continue with single occupancy vehicle commuting – even though it is unsustainable by every measure, including Omaha’s published master plan.

This road widening mindset is apparent in Omaha’s allocation of city funds:

2018.03 BRT Update City Funds chart

So Omaha had the challenge of changing a mindset along with meeting the many requirements of a BRT. That meant working with many City Departments, local businesses, neighborhoods, and the public, each with their own views and often conflicting priorities for the use of Omaha streets and the areas surrounding the ORBT route. It also required juggling a tight budget: the federal grant pays for less than half of the project. The rest of the $30.4 million cost is paid by private entities. The City of Omaha provides in-kind donations, but no city funds(3).

Bus Rapid Transit Features

While we wait for the ORBT team to announce their final design, here is a summary of BRT features as reported in past Mode Shift blogs:

  • Frequent service that encourages high ridership
  • Fare Collection that allows riders to purchase their ticket before they board, making the boarding process much quicker.
  • High Quality Stations  with shelter from the elements and raised platforms for quick and safe boarding.
  • Real Time Information so that riders waiting at the station or preparing to leave their home or place of work know when the next bus is coming.
  • Priority right-of-way – A BRT has, among other things,  priority lanes or queue jumping to move ahead of traffic and signal prioritization to avoid waits at intersections.
  • Stations with a good walking environment and bicycle friendly infrastructure because transit rider start or finish as pedestrians or bicycle riders.
  • Branding and outreach that differentiates the BRT from the regular bus lines and involves City Departments, businesses, neighborhoods, and the public with the BRT design.

ORBT Final Design

Will the ORBT have all these features? We’ll find out soon. Considering the tight schedule and budget, and the multiple entities with interests along the ORBT route, it is likely that the team had to make some compromises. But we are optimistic that the results will be a substantial benefit for Omaha and that we will owe the ORBT team a big THANK YOU!


Notes:

  1. Estimates vary, but projects implemented under emergency conditions typically cost five times more that projects planned ahead of time.
  2. Source: 2018 CIP. See here for details.
  3. Metro’s FAQ lists more details about the funding. Omaha’s Capital Improvement Program lists the BRT project with zero city funds, so no Omaha property tax dollars are used for this project.

Omaha does not require transportation management plans, and it should

4 Apr

A friend of Mode Shift Omaha sent us the photograph below, with the accompanying text:

Photo credit: Farrah Grant

 This is the section on Dodge Street I was telling you about. Both sides of the sidewalk are closed so there is no pedestrian access. On the north side, a sign says “Sidewalk closed: Use other side”…

We have discussed in the past that this is not the norm in other cities of similar size. Other cities require that construction projects that alter or inhibit transportation access submit and execute a transportation management plan (TMP) that reroutes or otherwise accommodates the traffic that is being affected by the construction. Omaha has no such requirement. It never has.

This isn’t some recent decision or a cost cutting device of our fiscally conservative administration. Not requiring a TMP is how business has always been done in Omaha. Consequently, we run into situations where two concurrent projects can entirely eliminate pedestrian access to a major transportation corridor. Without sidewalk access, we eliminate people walking and people using public transportation as safe modes of transportation in the area — and this is on a major bus route near critical health and governmental resources.

With Omaha’s stated objective of becoming a Vision Zero city, it is important that city policies account for the safety of all traffic, not merely the convenience of vehicular traffic. Requiring developers to manage the traffic their projects interrupt is a good way to keep everyone accountable and safe, regardless of their mode of transportation. Continue reading

Bringing the TAP to the TIP – Public Input Requested from MAPA

21 Feb

MAPA is putting together their 2019-2023 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) and is asking for public input on two projects that will be proposed for the final year of the program that qualify for the federal Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP). Transportation Alternatives (TAP) are federally funded, community-based projects that expand travel choices and enhance the transportation experience by integrating modes and improving the cultural, historic, and environmental aspects of our transportation infrastructure.  Any questions or comments that people have should be sent to mapa@mapacog.org.

First Project is one we have raised awareness about in the past, and that is the addition of a multi-use bridge to the US Hwy 34/75 over the Platte River on the border between Sarpy and Cass Counties. Currently, pedestrians and cyclists can share the current bridge with automobiles. After a planned expansion of the road, the highway will be designated a freeway, and people walking or riding bikes will not legally be allowed to share the space with people driving motor vehicles.

Details of the multi-use bridge project over the Platte River at US Hwy 34/75 – click for larger view

Continue reading